6 Lessons from 6 Months in Guatemala

             The day we flew to Guatemala                 

It has been 6 months since we boarded a plane out of Chicago, IL and moved here to Guatemala. Our lives have changed dramatically in these past 6 months. People talk about seasons in their lives where they seem to age more than how long the season lasted…that’s how these last 6 months have seemed.
In the last 12 months we both stepped away from full-time jobs, liquidated everything that we owned, said good-bye to the place that we called home for the last 7 years. We left behind the best friends we have ever made and the place that Jenny and I lived many of our ‘firsts.’ And, we did so while Jenny was 6 months pregnant. It has been a wild ride.
So, in celebration of our 6 months away here are 6 things with which we continue to wresle. With most of things, we would appreciate your prayers. We have just begun to learn these things and will continue to l
6 Months Later

earn them over and over and over again.

1. Culture Shock is a Real Thing
I always thought that culture shock was for the people that moved to the desert in Africa, or the jungles of South America. I mean, Guatemala City has a Wal-Mart…how can there be culture shock?
We have been reminded that culture includes much more than food, clothing, music, and traditions. Culture is this sort-of ambiguous substance that shapes how people think and feel. The differences are often very small, but their apparent small-ness doesn’t change their significance.
For example, when a Guatemalan walks into a room, they greet everyone in the room personally. When they are leaving at the end of an event or workday, they say good-bye to everyone around them personally. This is a small thing. However, when I walk into a room and say “Hey, everybody” it’s easy for people to think that I’m rude. Every time that I walk into a room, I make an effort to personally greet everyone. That is just one of a thousand different examples.
The words that we use, the phrases, the jokes, how we process emotions, thoughts, ideas, what we value and don’t value, how we work, how we play, all are nuanced from culture to culture.
2. Doubt is Everywhere
This is one that I never expected. I’m sure most missionaries go through this. After all of the emotion and festivities of moving away and saying good-bye, you wake up one morning in think to yourself “uh oh, what did I just do?” Doubt is everywhere. Did I move into the right house? Did I get the right car? What will people think about me? Am I actually accomplishing anything? Is there actually a long-term plan here? Why am I here in the first place?
It is amazing the amount of doubt that goes into just an ordinary day. I am a very confident and decisive person. But moving to another country will beat the man-made confidence out of just about anyone.[1]Which is a great segue into the next point.

3. Actually Walking By Faith is hard
I don’t like to admit it, but I have rarely actually felt the need to walk in faith. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have the need; I have the need and it is enormous. However, I have never felt so far outside of my own comfort zone that I was grasping for something that made me feel stable or secure.
In most ministry contexts I have too heavily relied on my abilities or strengths. When you move to another country, it seems like your abilities and strengths are neutralized.  
All of a sudden I felt an enormous pressure to trust that God would use my stumbling efforts. It is a pressure that I should have felt a long time ago. My talents or abilities, apart from the grace of God, produce nothing for eternity. When I previously would rely on talents or abilities, it was mostly to give myself a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. I felt like I had plans, or stability, or vision. But here we wake up every morning and have to trust that God has the ideas for our day already planned out. Walking by faith is painful, but it is a good pain.

4. The Things You Miss are Funny
I miss carpet. I know it seems odd, but carpet has always given me a sense of home. Carpet doesn’t make sense in a Guatemalan climate, so there is no carpet. But, I miss it.
We also miss walgreens. In Guatemala there’s no chain of convenience stores that you can stop into. You have to go to a grocery store.
Jenny misses licorice. Every time someone has come to visit, we make sure that they bring down a HUGE bag of licorice. Also, Jenny misses Chick-fil-a, Chipotle, and Diet Coke. I think you can see the theme.

5. A Sense of Belonging has never felt so important

I always knew what community was. I understood it. I wasn’t able to live in community most of my life, having moved around a lot. Jenny was able to grow up in the same town till college. Both of us were able to settle down in the Chicago-land area for the past few years. We legitimately and fully experienced community. We had people around us that we cared deeply about that cared deeply about us. For one of the first times in my life I didn’t feel like an outsider.
Moving to another country means that you have to start all over. You move to a place where people already have their family traditions, groups of friends, plans for the weekend. We see the importance of feeling like you belong.
Slowly but surely, God is shaping a little community for us. As our director and friend, Steve Dresselhaus says “One of the first things that God says in all of the Bible is ‘it is good for man to be alone.’” We have felt the full weight and truth of that statement.

6. Everything is an Adventure

When you move to another country, absolutely everything is an adventure. Probably the first 7 times we left the house we got lost. We’ve found doctors in another country. We’ve had a baby in another country. We’ve filled out immigration papers, had to get passports for our baby. We’ve made a trip up to Mexico to renew our passports. We’ve had to discover where we will shop, where will we eat, where will we go see a movie. We’ve lived adventure after adventure after adventure.
These 6 months have been tough. We’d be lying if we said that they weren’t. However, God has used these 6 months in amazing ways to chisel away those calcified corners of our hearts that keep us from hearing His voice and trusting in Him. God has used these 6 months to confirm our giftings, strengths, and even our weaknesses. God has used these 6 months to shape and form us into the kind of missionaries that he wants us to be.
As frustrating, and lonely, and challenging that the first 6 months of missionary life can be, they have and will continue to reap a harvest of holiness and formation of our character. We continue to learn that before clay vessels can be filled they must be formed, and sometimes, they first must be shattered.


[1] Encouragement Tip: When you go to encourage a new missionary, remind them of why they are there in the first place. It may sound silly, but I can assure you that new missionaries wrestle with the “why” questions.
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